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I paid my first visit to the Guelph Jazz Festival this year, the ninth one held. The city of Guelph is about one hour drive west of Toronto and has a university plus plenty of fine restaurants and watering holes. The festival was held from September 4th to the 8th and took place in various venues around town. The festival's main theme was about jazz crossing foundations of race and gender, performing across borders both geographic and national. Every morning starting at 9:15 and running into the afternoon were talks and workshops featuring discussion between various panels and the audience. One such talk was given by George Lewis, the noted trombonist and educator. The workshops included Cuong Vu, Alan Silva, David Fiuczynski, Kidd Jordan, Fred Anderson and others playing and discussing their music. Paul Haines, librettist for Carla Bley's epic works Escalator Over the Hill and Tropic Appetites, showed three of his videos which were both amusing and informative. The concerts themselves presented wide-ranging music that reflected this year's theme. Highlights included the Cuong Vu Trio with Vu on trumpet/electronics, Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Joe Tomino on drums, and the In The Tradition Trio of Alan Silva on synthesizer, trombonist Johannes Bauer and drummer Roger Turner. Both groups utilized extended techniques in a creative way that added to the music.
Jason Moran appeared as a special guest with the Francois Carrier Trio - a group from Quebec led by Carrier on alto sax, bassist Pierre Cote and drummer Michel Lambert. Moran was his usual unpredictable self, moving the music forward in an exciting and ever-surprising way.
Peggy Lee, the cellist from Vancouver appeared with another Canadian musician, Marilyn Lerner from Toronto, in a duo format which had a chamber-like feel, but was also dynamically challenging, especially when Lerner played inside the piano on the strings alongside Lee's arco and pizzicato playing.
Hasidic New Wave, the klezmer group from New York played in a workshop along with Marilyn Lerner, Daniel Heikalo, a guitarist from Nova Scotia, and two Senegalese percussionists which reinforced the ongoing theme of this year's festival. Hasidic New Wave performed later the same day with the two percussionists in an evening concert that was delightfully charming.
William Parker presented "Music and the Shadow People," a play with music and script by Parker and choreography by Patricia Nicholson. This had Nicholson and three other dancers along with Parker, Rob Brown, Lewis Barnes, and Hamid Drake supplying the music.
Parker and Drake perfomed as a duo on the final morning of the festival, and also along with Kidd Jordan and Fred Anderson, a repeat performance of their appearance at this year's Vision Festival.
Two other events worth mention were the concerts given by George Lewis along with Marilyn Crispell, Miya Masaoka (on koto) and Hamid Drake. Masaoka also appeared the next day with Larry Ochs (of the ROVA Saxophone Quartet) and Fred Frith.
Trevor Watts' Moire Music of the UK presented their own take of African high life and township jazz, including a beautiful tribute to Don Cherry.
The final concert featured Jane Bunnett on soprano sax and flute, Dewey Redman on tenor, Larry Cramer on trumpet, Stanley Cowell on piano, Kiernan Ownes on bass, Mark McLean on drum and vocalist Dean Bowman. Bunnett is a wonderful musician on both instruments, playing with passion and commitment. Don Pullen had something to do with her musical education so that goes a long way to explaining her musicianship! Stanley Cowell was also interesting. He is such an underappreciated player, making his rare appearances something special. Dewey Redman was rather subdued in his solo excursions but did contribute some nice ideas. Unfortunately, Bowman was overused during the set.
I was not able to attend one or two other events but managed to attend the important ones. All in all, a very successful festival. Congratulations to Artistic Director Ajay Heble and his hard-working committee.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.